During the first decade of the 21st century, no rivalry in the NFL was as exciting and produced as many memorable moments as the New England Patriots’ against the Indianapolis Colts. Led by two Hall of Fame quarterbacks (Tom Brady and Peyton Manning) and two Hall of Fame head coaches (Bill Belichick and Tony Dungy), the two organizations established themselves as the dominating forces in the AFC.
From 2001, when Brady took over as the Patriots’ starting quarterback, through Manning’s last year of playing with the Colts in 2010, the Patriots made it to the AFC Championship game five times, the Colts thrice. Two times, the teams faced each other with the Super Bowl on the line. In the same time span, the organizations also won a combined four Vince Lombardi Trophies, while appearing on the game’s biggest stage twice more.
The times, however, are a-changin’: with Manning leaving Indianapolis after missing all of 2011 due to injury, the rivalry was altered dramatically. While Brady and Belichick are still in command in New England, Manning, Dungy and Colts general manager Bill Polian are all gone and replaced by Andrew Luck, and at least initially by the head coach-general manager duo of Chuck Pagano and Ryan Grigson.
Gone also was the competitiveness of the Brady-Manning days – at least on the field: since Luck joined the Colts as 2012’s number one overall draft pick, the Patriots won all five meetings. The average score of those games is 45-20, which reflects their blowout nature. Going undefeated against Luck so far brought New England’s winning streak against its long-time rival to seven games.
What has been going on off the field since Manning left therefore offers more intrigue and helped refuel the animosity between the two franchises, fanbases and cities. First, there was a ball inflation scandal created from an unsubstantiated rumor and initiated by Ryan Grigson: Deflategate, which led to the Patriots losing two draft picks and Tom Brady having to serve a four-game suspension despite a lack of evidence.
Four years later, there was the Josh McDaniels saga: the Colts announced the Patriots’ offensive coordinator as their new head coach only to see him back out and return to New England shortly afterwards – something he was allowed to do considering that he had not yet signed a contract in Indianapolis. Following the loss of his head coaching candidate new Colts general manager Chris Ballard declared that “the rivalry is back on”.
Is it really, though? From the off-field drama the two organizations produced over the last few years one could draw this conclusion. However, the actual product on the field does not support this point of view. Ever since Manning left, the Patriots have had not problems defeating the Colts. Until this changes, the rivalry appears to be on hold.
Is the Patriots-Colts rivalry back on?
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